Monday, November 19, 2018

The Inexplicable Death Of An Automobile

So this is the tale of what happened after I sought "expert" help because the Steviemobile's Check Engine light was on.

The Steviemobile's Check Engine light had come on two days before we were due to leave for Florida, and I made a mental note to call the dealership while we were away and schedule an appointment. Naturally, I let this slip until after we returned, and was un-elated to find there was a two-week waiting list before a Hyundai mechanic could look at the car. I asked for an alternative, but was given cricket noise. Service was not available from them and nowhere else either it seemed.

The only other Hyundai service center in driving distance was Atlantic Hyundai in Bayshore, and 15 years ago I was treated so badly there that I resolved never to give them any business were they the last car dealership on Earth.

I was told that unless the light was flashing it wasn't that serious (a statement that would be contradicted a few days into the Steviemobile's visit to the service center, but I'm getting ahead of myself) so I drove the car to and from the station with the engine running rough - there was definitely Trouble Up At Mill - until the magic date arrived.

I drove to Huntington Hyundai and attempted to park the car in the dealership, but was stymied by the chock-a-block situation that had been engineered in the car park. I finally found a space and went inside to give them my details as I had only the 9 months before, and was brusquely informed that I had to "register" the vehicle with the "technician" outside. Okaaaaay.

So I did that, and while doing so I realized what had changed to make chaos the order of the day. The dealership had two sites, on opposite sides of the road. This one dealt in Hyundais. The other in Jeeps and Chryslers. The building on the other side of the road was curiously dark, although there were cars in the lot, and it dawned on me that the business had in all likelihood closed down the repair shop in the Jeep dealership and now were attempting to manage things from one shop and a badly overloaded car park.

So I gave the details to the account manager assigned to my car and Mrs Stevie drove me to work.

At the end of the day, having heard nothing from the dealership1 I called them and was told that they were just looking at the car now2. I explained that having made and appointment and having dropped of the car at 7:30 am I was disappointed that they couldn't be bothered to actually do anything until the day was almost over. This was met with the expected indifference. I was informed that the problem was likely a camshaft sensor. I said this was good news because they had just changed out a camshaft sensor at Christmas and it had less than 3000 miles on it and so would be under warranty. The Man from Huntington Hyundai said it was probably the other sensor. I said some Class One Words of Power and told him that in that case he would need to call Geico and start involving them and the lifetime warranty I had through them.

I called again at 5 pm and was told that the car hadn't been worked on because it needed their "best mechanic3" to look at it and he was booked solid until tomorrow. I objected that the matter of a sensor check should just be plugging in an analyzer and reading off the codes returned. The Man from Huntington Hyundai counter-objected that it wasn't so easy; you had to know what the codes mean. There was the matter of code interpretation. I said "Google?" and the line went quiet, and then I was informed that the mechanic would look at the car "first thing" in the morning.

The next day, in the absence of an update4 I called again in the early afternoon and was told that they were having a problem reading the codes. "All sorts of crazy codes" were coming out of the computer. They were going to try fitting a new computer but they didn't have one in stock and would have to order it in. It would be there the next day once Geico authorized the work. I asked if they had called Geico. The Man from Huntington Hyundai said he had, but they hadn't gotten back to him.

I immediately hung up and called Geico, who denied any knowledge of any contact with Huntington Hyundai, but the representative was happy to reach out and get things moving from his end. I said thank you and called The Man from Huntington Hyundai .I objected that by not calling me back hours had been lost. This was met with indifference.

The next day I called (once again the secret of the telephone was eluding The Man from Huntington Hyundai) and was informed that the new computer had not fixed the problem and that they needed to get their "Platinum Guy" on the job. I was impressed that they had a Platinum Guy ready to throw at me. I had assumed they had shot their bolt excuse-wise when they deployed their "Best Guy" the day before. I idly wondered where The Man from Huntington Hyundai would go from there once the Platinum Guy was in play, but needn't have worried because The Platinum Guy was in fact on vacation and wouldn't be returning until the following Monday. I suggested that in that case I could take the car and use it (because the Check Engine light wasn't flashing so it wasn't that bad, right?) but The Man from Huntington Hyundai said he wouldn't recommend that.

I need to break here to explain that while this was playing out, my mother was passing away. I needed the car because I was trying to arrange a trip to Canada and sort out all sorts of last-minute stuff that didn't get sorted out before my mum passed away, not to mention that I didn't need these clowns adding to the stress of events with stupid nonsense and made-up excuses for not getting it done. In the event, I ended up going to Canada for a cathartic meeting with my sister and her family, and the scattering of Mum and Dad's ashes on their property. I got back to the USA in a calmer frame of mind.

I called The Man from Huntington Hyundai and asked for progress, and of course there was none. Mr Platinum5 was just as stumped as the rest of the crew.

While I had been intransit back and forth I had done some research and had found that sometimes a component calle the "camshaft phaser6" gets fouled and causes all sorts of strange effects, including crazy computer codes. I suggested they have a look at this. It was a mark of my increased peace of mind that I didn't ask why I was making this suggestion rather than The Platinum Guy.

I knew it was bad when the next day, at 9:30am I got a call from The Man from Huntington Hyundai, breaking the established communications protocol.

It seems that in all this time, the mechanics at Huntington Hyundai had never removed the valve cover from the Steviemobile's engine. When they did, they found sludge in the oil. I said that it was probably the "caramel" that came from making short-hop journeys, expecting that an oil change was called for. That's all it took when I used to do my own oil changes back when engines didn't need computers in them.

No, I was informed. There was a problem. Hyundai's official "fix" for sludge in the engine was a new engine. There was a second problem, in that Hyundai didn't make the Steviemobile's engine any more. The only solution, according to The Man from Huntington Hyundai was to use a scrap engine. This brought up the third problem - the scrap engine they wanted to use had ten housand more miles on it than the one currently sitting in the car.

To say I was upset doesn't begin to come close to what the reality was. Although the car was 15 years old, I had babied it. Every major service had been a dealer service performed at Huntington Hyundai. I had spent thousands of dollars over the years replacing parts before they broke. On top of that the engine, which had a measly 87,400 miles on it, had never been revved over 4000 RPM and only a handful of times over 3500. This engine, by any yardstick, was barely used for a 15 year old block. The previous Hyundai we had owned, an Excel, had 180,000 miles on it before I sent it to a farm to live.

I asked why we couldn't just add a detergent-rich oil and flush the engine like in the old days. I got back the sound of sucked teeth. I suggested a scrap engine with more miles on it was likely to be just another sludge failure waiting to happen. I was told I should have used synthetic oil and had to point out that the first five years of oil changes had happened in the Huntington Hyundai shop and not once had they suggested using synthetic oils7. I was told that my last oil change had been 9 months before and there was sludge on the dipstick, and I pointed out that I had only done about 2600 miles in that time and there had been no sludge on the dipstick at the previous service or I presume they would have mentioned it, nor had there been any sludge on the dipstick when I had last checked the oil a few days before the Check Engine light came on.

I called Geico and spoke to a representative about how unhappy I was at the idea of using a scrapyard engine in my carefully cared-for car. The Geico guy was astounded. No-one had told them the replacement engine was to be hauled out of a scrapyard. I asked if we could explore a couple of options please before going that route and got a tentative agreement.

I did some research of my own8 and found that for a mere 500 dollars more than Huntington Hyundai were proposing to spend on a scrap engine I could have a rebuilt unit with a one year guarantee. So I called The Man from Huntington Hyundai back and asked him to explore two options with Geico (who were the final arbiters of what was going to be done): A rebuilt engine rather than a scrapyard special, and cleaning and rebuilding my own engine, which in my opinion should have been the first line of attack.

And only a couple of hours later I was called back by The Man from Huntington Hyundai9 who told me that Geico were going to total the car, and that I should come down to take the plates and settle the outstanding bill of a few hundred dollars.

One quick call from Geico fired them up to put the dealer straight about the matter of an outstanding bill and so I got a visit from a Geico operative holding a check for about half what the trade-in value of the car would have been when I used it to help pay for the new Hyundai Tucson I had my eye on, and that Saturday I pulled off the plates and emptied the various personal junk out of what will certainly be my last Hyundai automobile, Huntington Hyundai and the Hyundai Motor Corporation having destroyed almost 30 years of customer satisfaction in a welter of poor service and even poorer engineering.

I sulked without a car for a week, then Mrs Stevie suggested how I might get a new Steviemobile - a tale I shall tell in my next posting.

  1. As per usual
  2. I took this to mean "I can see the car sitting in the same parking space in which you left it from where I'm standing by virtue of the large picture window between me and the vehicle." I was not in any way, shape or form fooled into thinking my car was on a lift with a mechanic actually within touching distance.
  3. This is a well-known trope in the business and I have always taken it to mean "Everyone has gone home. There's no-one around to look at your car"
  4. As per usual
  5. Assuming he actually existed
  6. Which against all reason is a real thing and not an elaborate Trekkie joke, which shifts the timing of the camshaft in real-time altering the valve timings in accordance with computer sensor data
  7. I later remembered that they had suggested synthetic oil as a choice at the first oil change., I had asked what the difference was, as synthetic oils were a rather new thing at the time, and was told that they were much more expensive but meant longer times between oil changes. I was also told that since I needed to change the oil every 3000 miles to keep the warranty valid, it was a pointless expense using them
  8. Again. Why all the suggestions on how to proceed were coming from me and not from The Platinum Guy is still a mystery
  9. Again, I knew this was going to be bad news because I was not having to call him

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Why Me?

Monday, Veterans Day (Obs), John the Plumber Guy turned out to fix my furnace, as he does about two years in every three.

Mrs Stevie had activated the upstairs heating without telling me. I rarely go upstairs any more as the sight of the junk piled in the Stevieling's bedroom makes me come over all funny and ragey, but I had cause that day and found the place hovering at a brisk 56 degrees Fahrenheit. The thermostat was set for 70, presumably waiting for me to turn it to 68.

Heaving a sigh I went down into the basement and did some basic troubleshooting. The downstairs heat was on and working, so the usual thermocouple fail was not in progress. I touched the feed pipes and the one for the upstairs circuit was stone cold. The motor-valve for the upstairs circuit was very hot indeed though. Clearly the motor had siezed and was in the process of bursting into flames, so I went upstairs and turned the heat off again and called John the Plumber Guy.

Over the course of the next hour or so the motor cooled down, confirming my diagnosis1 so I wasted the rest of my Sunday in pointless regret, howls of despair and pitiful cries of "why me?" and let Monday roll on.

John the Plumber Guy arrived on-time with a big smile on his face and his son in tow. Between them the wrestled with my furnace in a World Gone Mad for two hours, fixing the valve, changing the thermocouple2 and finding the Big Time-Wasting Problem™ that was lurking inside the Easy Job™3 and is the main reason I won't touch even simple furnace work with a barge-pole4.

I paid off John & Son, indicating my gratitude by the traditional manly wails, howling and gnashing of teeth as my checkbook caught fire, and that was Monday.

Tuesday was the first workday of the week, and was begun in fine style by my stepping out into the freezing rain that had decided to greet me, only to realize just as the front door clicked shut that I had left my keys inside the house. I shouted out some Class Three Words of Power but the door was latched tight. Naturally. On any other day the bloody thing would have to be pulled tightly into place for the latch to catch, but this day, perfect lock action. Gah.

With no real hope I tried the trunk release on the new Steviemobile5 and then the door, but they of course remained locked6 so I had to bite the bullet and call Mrs Stevie.

She hoved into view about twenty minutes later and let me back into the house so she could get the proper accoustics for the frank exchange of views this dimwit act deserved. In some time at all I was on my way to my morning commute, an hour late and soaking wet.

The Bloody Long Island Railroad was, despite now being fitted with the magic Double Tracks at Wyandanch which would Cure All Delays, delayed because of some electrical problem in Penn Station. In fact, since installing the double tracks a month ago there hasn't been a trouble-free commute once. It seems that despite all reason to the contrary, the real problems with trains originate at the West End of the network. Coo! Who could have predicted that?

Oh that's right; I did.

  1. This motor valve is fbleeped to a fare-thee-well
  2. A pre-emptive strike I asked them to do
  3. "Yer pipes are all clogged with rust, but we'll sort it out for ya by substantially dismantling the Moustrap Game™ pipework and cleaning it out".
  4. That, and the fact that I do not own a barge-pole
  5. The story of what happened to the old Steviemobile eventuating in the need for the new Steviemobile has yet to be told, but still brings me out in snarls of rage and so will have to wait to see the light of day in these pages
  6. The new Steviemobile has a keyless start fob thingy, but it was annoyingly on my keyring in the house. At least I can confirm that the doors won't release to some stranger because the fob is in close enough proximity in the house to release the security locks.